Spilling Silicon Valley’s secrets, one tweet at a time
Wong, 27, has a preternatural ability to crack difficult code–along with a sizable Twitter following that includes some of the biggest names in tech and journalism. They are eager to see her discoveries as she digs into the code of websites to find out what software engineers are working on.
“Basically, there’s no such thing as a secret beta anymore for the world’s biggest apps,” says Casey Newton, the founder of the popular Substack tech publication Platformer. “If it’s in code, Jane could find them.
This is not Wong’s job. She actually describes reverse-engineering as her hobby. She says, “I just like digging deep into the apps to see how they are organized,” from Hong Kong, where her family lives. She’s not a hacker, all data she uses is public. She is more like Gossip Girls ..
Wong has a Twitter feed that is a near daily scoop factory. However, she insists that she does not post any leaks. She says that leaks are information that is based on employee data. Employees are the source. “But I use publicly accessible data and code. They are not .”
Wong is known for being always right. Journalists often cite her work, citing her scoops. “Initially, people would ask, “Who is she?” She says, “How does she have this information?” But I gained trust over time. You must prove that your information is valid.”
It’s reached the point where companies have created Easter eggs for her to find. Newton said that many people have stopped hiding their code and just play along. He says that developers have been known to put a “Hi, Jane”-style message in their code. “They know she’s coming .”
Wong’s work brings attention the often-ignored research/development parts of companies, which can prove to be a PR win. Meta’s Coders love Jane Manchun Wong so much they have created an internal Jane Manchun Wong fanclub, which includes Andrew Bosworth (the company’s CTO). A Meta spokesperson said that they value her input and feedback that helps improve their products.
But even though they know she is coming, it doesn’t mean that they are always open to her. Showmanship, surprise and humor are key to maintaining the aura surrounding a tech launch or feature announcement. Wong has broken down these walls, breaking down the carefully constructed walls of tech companies. She effectively dismantles any narrative or buildup they may have about a feature with one tweet.
This is exactly why Wong claims she tweets about features before they are made public. She believes that the hype and secrecy are problematic. Apps are used daily by people. Shouldn’t they know what products and updates are being created behind closed doors? It’s easy to see how companies might be upset about a social media celebrity revealing their secrets on Twitter. And as a 20-something Asian woman posting a steady stream of bombshells about tech companies on Twitter, Wong is a prime target for the type of harassment and trolling that can break even the strongest of humans. She says, “I wish more people realized that I’m a human being.” “I’m more that a machine
It’s a contentious dynamic and one that has deeply affected her. She has posted many times about feeling depressed and hated by people over the years. She has been open about her mental health struggles and said that she still suffers from depression.
And though Wong describes what she does as a hobby, at times it has been more of an obsession: she used to spend nearly 18 hours a day combing code and checking out what companies were tinkering with. She was unable to sleep or take care of her health and would sometimes lock herself in her home for days if the harassment got too much. After being taunted online, she threatened suicide a few times. She was unable to graduate from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth because of medical issues. This is something she regrets.
Is it worth it? Wong believes it is. She says she has noticed that companies are more open about what they are doing these days. She says, “And if they were before, I wouldn’t have to do that.”
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Over the course of the pandemic, Wong has adjusted and reevaluated her schedule. Wong is still a night owl but she is finding a balance. She has taken up hiking in the city’s outskirts and found refuge at a cafe near a church.
Quarantine also helped her realize that this is not the job she wants to do full-time. She says that she has wanted to be a software engineer since she was six years old. “I want to make things,” she says. But, despite receiving numerous offers, she isn’t ready to take a job as a tech worker. She says, “I still haven’t gotten to my bottom of this curiosity.” “When I satisfy this curiosity, I’ll be done.” I’ll move on.”
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.